These preteen years.

Sean recently gave me a card where he wrote, ‘As we enter the most challenging phase of parenting….’ Wait, I thought we are already past the most challenging phase. The sleepless nights, dirty diapers, the mysterious crying bouts, temper tantrums in grocery stores. Now I empathize with moms in stores struggling with a carriage and a crying toddler, I hold the door for them with a ‘I know what you are going through’ smile. That had to be the most difficult phase of parenting…. till Sahana turned 12.

What I will write in this blog is nothing new for many of you. When you come to think of it, nothing I say is unique. But it is certainly new for me. It is parenting a preteen. I have to say, I simply love being a parent. I love to see my kids grow, like all the other parents. I give a lot of thought to what I say to them, how I address the problems they come across or questions they ask. Yes, sometimes I get overzealous and talk too much, then they tune me out. Its not like I don’t get stumped by them, sometimes I do. But I have no problem telling them I don’t know the answer to a particular question, but I will think about it and try to come up with an answer. And I follow through, for the most part. Having said that, I also make plenty of mistakes, I lose patience and yell sometimes. After 8:30 pm, I am an alligator, ready to snap heads off if people whine or misbehave. I promise myself I will work on my patience, every new year, I try for a while, and fail. I DONOT want to give the impression that I am a perfect parent, I am not. I just do the best I can.

My daughter was very easy in some ways as a baby and uh…not so easy in others. We traveled with her quite a bit when she was little. She was a champion traveler with an awesome ability to fall asleep anywhere, without a fuss. People on airplanes got grumpy when they saw us taking seats next to them with a toddler. The same people, all smiles and happy at not being woken up by a screaming kid, complimented us at our destination ‘Wow, you have a good traveler there!’ She survived a forty hour trip from India to Hawaii, for crying out loud! She fell in a mud puddle in Varanasi, got up, looked at her muddy outfit, tried to wipe off the mud and skipped along. She nonchalantly looked on, as bats flew around her head in the caves of Ellora in Aurangabad, while her mother freaked out and ran! She spoke to me in my language since she could talk, turned to her father and said the same thing in English. My husband never learned my language, sigh! At age four, she advised a smoker on a cruise ship on the Nile river that it was terrible to smoke and his lungs will turn black in no time. Poor guy! I still remember his flabbergasted face as he listened to Sahana’s lecture. A great eater, she tried all kinds of exotic food, always finished her veggies and drank her milk. She was also the child who asked me why Santa used the same wrapping paper as mom and dad, at age four. And always took just one more step before stopping when I asked her to stop! Affectionate, loving, quick-witted, spunky and sassy. That is how I think of her. She was a child who always kept me on my toes, asked profound questions, pushed the envelope and made me struggle to stay one step ahead of her. Never a dull moment when she is around.

Watching her grow up has been an experience in itself. First, the changes were subtle, slight rolling of the eye, a little sigh here and there, some mumbled words when things didn’t go her way and lately, lashing out in anger. ‘Why do you hate me so? What do you have against me?’ or “Whatever you give me you do it out of guilt!” That one hurt! The first time it happened, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. What the heck happened? Who is this stranger?

I felt like a new, inexperienced parent, all over again. I thought hard how to react to such outbursts, how to deal with this new person that I saw emerging, at the same time, be sympathetic and supportive to the multitude of changes happening in her mind and body. Part of the outbursts are manifestation of the confusion she feels inside. I realize the hormones have started causing havoc in her. All of a sudden, I witness unexplained tears after a normal conversation. ‘Why are you crying?’ ‘I don’t know!’ I understand the need to just retreat to her room and be alone, I try to keep the pesky, little brother away. The big dilemma was, do I excuse some of the bad behavior and blame it on the hormones or do I not let her get away with rudeness? I chose to be ‘old fashioned’, if you will. I made it clear, bad behavior will have repercussions. In her case, losing reading privilege. This, I feel, is a life lesson to be learnt. No matter how she feels, she can’t get away with mean, hurtful words, society will not stand for it and it is better to learn that lesson early. Like all of us, she needed (and still does) help with anger management. Before losing control, I told her to excuse herself and go to her room to let off steam and write in her journal. I found, as an adolescent, a pen and paper is the best way to vent one’s frustration. She took my advice. Although she wasn’t allowed to speak rudely to us, she could get rid of her anger by writing down her feelings in her journal. I promised never to read her journal without her permission. Funnily enough, when she is calmer she tells me not to peek in her diary, I won’t be happy to read it. I never do. I don’t respect her privacy in social media, I check her emails sometimes (she knows it) but when it comes to diaries, never! I used my journal to vent against the several injustices dealt to me by my hard-hearted parents. I had to be home by a certain time??? Why? Have to finish my homework instead of hanging out with friends. Oh, so unfair! The diary knew it all. It worked great. After I left home, my mom found my journal AND READ IT! She found out about my crushes, my frustrations, my anger! I believe, she now has a better sense of what I was going through at that age, and we have shared a few laughs over some of the memories. I hope to have that moment with my daughter some day.

My heart goes out to her as I see her struggle to figure out where she fits in, at age 12. She gets overwhelmed sometimes with all the changes happening in her life, her body, her relationship with peers, navigating through middle school drama. There is conflict within her own self, the little girl who still wants to play spies and pirates with her younger brother and the surly tween who doesn’t think it is ‘cool’ to do so. This metamorphosis from a little girl to a young woman is very hard and I see my baby going through it right now. Hard, it is, but also exciting, for both of us. She is developing a mind of her own, sharing her own thoughts. It is refreshing to hear her thoughts on spirituality, romance, dating, literature, social norms, social media and how it affects today’s youth. We talk about what ‘being popular’ means, where she stands in the social hierarchy in middle school and if she is happy. Most days, she is. Our conversations have moved from ‘what if our house became a submarine and we lived underwater?’ to Huey Newton quotes and ‘mom, Brown has the best program in anthropology, that’s where I want to go for college!’ I do miss the magical ‘what if’s yet look on with wonder as she talks animatedly of her dreams, aspirations and goals. She has figured it all out and the possibilities are endless!

I know this is another milestone, teenage. I hear from other mothers that they can’t wait for this phase to be over. Some say, they will be friends with their children again, when they are thirty. Personally, I am starting to feel some frustration of parenting a preteen. At the same time, it is fascinating to see that the process of becoming an adult has begun. I have to see how it pans out for my girl, but it has been, mostly fun and sometimes frustrating experience so far. She still is a little girl who has far to go, so much to experience, so many things to figure out, and many milestones to cross. I feel immensely lucky to be part of her journey and hopefully, be there for her if she needs a helping hand along the way. I believe, parenting is a lot about teaching them to make sensible choices. If my daughter can make some good choices when the time comes for her to do so, I will feel my job was well done!


6 thoughts on “These preteen years.

  1. Beautifully written, Piyali – took me back to my own preteen, angst-ridden years (UGH). Also thinking ahead to the day when Sahana will read this … and understand what it was like from the “other” side. BTW, I like the notion of the journal being completely private but social media being monitored. Sounds like a wise, fair approach.


  2. Boudi-a lovely passage. How I adore the wonderful, challenging, ever evolving daughter you are parenting! And how lucky she is to have you!! You are an amazing example!! You both inspire me.
    Love- caitlin


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